Let me blow your mind with this rumor: Apple is going to unveil new iPhones in the fall.
Yes, that we know. But we also “know” a little more than that. Obviously Apple has so far not said a single word about its 2018 iPhone models, but the rumor mill has been chugging away, and the consensus is Apple will launch three different iPhones: a successor to the iPhone X, a large-screen version of that phone, and a new model that mostly mirrors the iPhone X design, but doesn’t have quite all the same features so Apple can sell it at a lower price.
There have been plenty of reports about the screen sizes, features, and technology the three phones will have, but there’s a big question about the phones that doesn’t have an obvious answer: What is Apple going to call these babies?
We discussed the topic of the 2018 iPhone names at length in the most recent MashTalk podcast.
For the names of the new iPhones, Apple has really painted itself into a corner. In 2017, Apple debuted the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus alongside the iPhone “ten,” which it designated with the letter X. Apple’s rationale with the names was that the 8 was the obvious successor to the previous models, but the iPhone X would offer customers the opportunity to jump ahead to a phone that set the template for the next decade of the iPhone, according to CEO Tim Cook. The number 10 seemingly conveyed how advanced the phone was compared to the 8 models (and was also a play on the 10-year-anniversary), while the Roman numeral hinted that this was just slightly experimental — almost kind of a hardware beta.
That all made sense, but what do we do now, a year later? With the iPhone X going away — as has been rumored — the logical choice for its successor seems like 11 (or XI), but that sounds a little weird and it also exacerbates the problem of the “lower-end” model sounding less advanced, assuming Apple goes with the logical choice of “iPhone 9” for that one.
The gen-2 iPhone X, and its big brother, could get a letter or number designation to differentiate from the current model. iPhone X2 is possible (and will certainly generate a smirk from X-Men fans), though the most recent rumor suggests “iPhone XS” (or “Xs” if Apple keeps its normal lower-case S-designation).
Both of those have problems, however. iPhone “ten-two” is utterly meaningless and silly, and sounds a preschooler’s attempt to pronounce 12. That’s cute if a kid says it — not so much the most valuable company in the world. And even though Apple will call the iPhone XS “ten-ess,” you can bet everyone else will call it “ex-ess.” Does Apple really wants to invite a year of snarky headlines about “iPhone excess?”
Apple could, of course, just go with another letter (iPhone “ten-A” has a certain ring to it). But a better solution might to ditch the numbers altogether, or at least mostly. Apple could keep the iPhone X branding for the X’s successor, and simply add an iPhone X Plus model. That will create a little confusion about which “iPhone X” anyone owns, but since Apple appears to be discontinuing the current iPhone X then that won’t matter as much.
This kind of approach tends to work for Apple’s other products, including the iPad and MacBooks. The iPad number became more or less unofficial years ago (remember the “new iPad?”) and MacBooks are usually differentiated by year (“late 2018 MacBook Pro,” etc.).
That still leaves the issue of what to call the lower-end phone. If not iPhone 9, why not just iPhone? Apple hasn’t officially had a phone simply called the “iPhone” since 2007, but, really, paying attention to the numbers — and even knowing exactly what number you have — is the purview of tech geeks and the press. By dividing its line into simply “iPhone” and “iPhone X,” and keeping it for the foreseeable future, Apple would simultaneously end all the hand-wringing and make its bifurcated product strategy crystal-clear. Techies might fret, but the public would love it.
Whatever Apple ends up doing, it’s important to remember that product names rarely matter. The Nintendo Wii was one of the most lampooned product names in history, and that device ended up conquering the console market. The iPad had a similar trajectory.
The iPhone, of course, has already made its conquests. There’s a good chance the 2018 models will have the most confusing names to date, but now, with Apple recently becoming the first company in history to pass $1 trillion in value thanks to its iconic invention, the word “iPhone” has never stood for so much.
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